loss of employment and mortgage arrears are among the reasons behind a rise in the numbers of people presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness in the Mid-West, members of Limerick City Council have been told.
Seamus O’Connor, a senior social worker, said there had been a “significant rise in the number of people in the 20-40 age group” who were at risk of losing their home during 2012.
Despite the increase, there was enough emergency accommodation in the region, much of it concentrated in Limerick City, to prevent people from sleeping rough.
“There are enough facilities in the city; some people still opt to sleep rough but there is no need for them to do so,” Mr O’Connor said.
It was an ambition of the regional action plan on homelessness to “eliminate” rough sleeping in Limerick by 2018, he added.
Parties to the regional plan - which include the HSE and the local authorities of Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary as well as voluntary service providers - will review by the first quarter of next year how those problematic cases where people have been barred from shelters are dealt with and don’t end up sleeping rough.
The regional plan - which is statutory - was adopted by Limerick City Council on Monday and members now have 12 weeks in which to adopt a corresponding local area plan for the city.
Figures for 2012 show 608 people presented as homeless to either statutory bodies or shelters run by charities in the city over the 12 months, of whom 325 were women. In addition, these people had 273 dependants looking for a home.
Domestic violence was the most common primary reason, accounting for almost one third of all cases. Addiction was adjudged to be the primary reason in 53 instances while in 21 cases those presenting had recently been released from prison. Seven people cited intimidation as the main reason for homelessness.
Cllr Jim Long observed that of those who cited eviction from local authority housing as the primary reason for homelessness, four had been evicted for rent arrears and only one for anti-social behaviour.
“We seem to be better at evicting people for not paying money than for causing disruption, mayhem and injury to people,” he said.
But he acknowledged that the staff working in homeless services at Limerick City Council did an excellent job in finding emergency accommodation for those in need.
Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon agreed that council staff Rob Lowth and David Meade “have to deal with very difficult emergency situations and often unpalatable situations and we can be proud of the fact we have proved we are a caring council when it comes to dealing with people who would otherwise end up on the street”.
Cllr Diarmuid Scully said that Limerick had come a long way since his first year on the council when a homeless person had “frozen to death on the streets”.
He said that city manager Conn Murray, who earlier in his career had been instrumental in bringing Novas Initiatives - operators of McGarry House and Brother Russell House - to the city, had played a part in that.
But Cllr Scully expressed concern at data that showed over 10% of those presenting as homeless in Limerick city in 2012 had not been placed whereas the rate in neighbouring local authorities was at around 5 or 6%.
Mr O’Connor said he “wouldn’t be surprised if many of those had refused an offer of emergency accommodation”. This may have been because they were from rural areas and did not wish to live in the city, he said.